Idaho’s most decorated boys youth soccer club and the state’s most dominating girls club are joining forces this summer.
The Boise Nationals and FC Nova will merge to form a single club in June, and the combined club figures to reshape the landscape of youth soccer in Idaho.
“This puts us on the soccer map,” FC Nova President Matt Woods said. “We’ve had moments where we’re competitive nationally. We can cite one or two teams. But together, we are very competitive regionally. We are very competitive nationally. This really pushes Idaho to the next step in the soccer community.”
Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the merger.
Why are they merging?
Nova and Nationals field teams in both genders, but Nova couldn’t operate boys teams at every age group and Nationals struggled to find enough girls at every age.
Now a single club can provide teams for both genders at every level, and they can share resources, facilities and brainpower.
The larger group of players will increase internal competition for roster spots. But the biggest benefit comes at the coaching level.
The two clubs have fought for coaches for years. Now they’ll join forces under one banner, one with access to professional coaching development and courses offered by the Portland Timbers of MLS and the Portland Thorns of the NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League).
“Nationals and Nova will have combined the most amount of A-licensed coaches, B-licensed coaches and C-licensed coaches in Idaho,” Woods said. “No one will be even close. What does that mean for the player? That means they’re getting exposure to the best coaches that Idaho has to offer.”
Coaches receive licenses from U.S. Soccer by completing educational training. An ‘A’ license is the highest possible license for a youth coach, a ‘B’ license the second highest and so on.
What will the team be called?
The Nova and Nationals names are disappearing. The combined club will be known as Boise Timbers-Thorns FC to represent their ties to the Portland Timbers and Portland Thorns.
The boys teams will go by the Boise Timbers, and the girls clubs will wear Boise Thorns jerseys.
But why is a larger club better?
Competition. The more players, the more likely a club is to find a top-level player. And the more top-level players it can field, the better it can compete regionally and nationally.
“You can have a top boys team here, for example,” said Eric Simmonsen, the director of coaching for FC Nova. “The problem is that boys team goes and competes nationally and they are not a top boys team anymore because we are internally diluted.”
Joint efforts from Nova and Nationals have paid off in the past. Only one Idaho club team has ever won a Far West Regional championship, a combined Nova-Nationals U-19 girls squad in 2015. That team then lost in penalty kicks in the U.S. Youth Soccer national title game.
Simmonsen saw FC Nova benefit from that internal competition when the Boise Capitals and Les Bois merged in 2010. Since then, Nova has joined ECNL (Elite Clubs National League) and saw its U-15 team qualify for the league’s national playoff in 2016.
The national exposure is paying off in recruiting with 19 Nova players signing letters of intent on national signing day in February, including 13 with Division I programs.
“Where they’re being recruited now, those same players were not getting those looks before,” Simmonsen said. “(U.S. national team player) Sofia (Huerta) was a one-off. Shalese (Miller) at Marquette, she was a one-off. They are one-offs in a class of 100 kids.
“Now you’re getting kids going all over the nation, and getting opportunities athletically and academically that they otherwise wouldn’t have been exposed to.”
The Boise Thorns will continue to compete in the ECNL. The Boise Timbers are solidifying plans to compete in an Oregon-based pre-developmental academy league for the first time with the Timbers’ other affiliated clubs.
How are the Timbers and Thorns involved?
To promote development of U.S. players, MLS made Idaho part of the Timbers’ homegrown territory. The Nationals took it one step further two years ago, joining the adidas Timbers Alliance, a group of youth soccer clubs designed to funnel top players into the Timbers’ developmental academy, where one day the MLS club could sign them to a professional contract.
The merger opens the same pathway to girls in the Treasure Valley with the Thorns, who started their own developmental academy last fall.
Of course, only the most elite of the elite players will ever sign a professional soccer contract. But representatives from both Nova and Nationals said the coaching education provided by the Portland teams and a larger club that can fully integrate those programs will benefit players of all skill levels.
“You want to have kids that, as they move through their age groups, the next coach they get doesn’t have to go back and try to train them on something they should already know,” Boise Nationals President Chris Billings said. “It creates a broader framework and understanding for the kids as they move through soccer.”
Will my child stay on the same team they’ve played with for years?
The combined club will form new teams after the June merger based on talent. A larger club means multiple teams per age group, and players will have to earn their way onto the first, second or possibly third teams based on their performance.
“Every kid that is in both clubs has a spot in both clubs,” Billings said. “This isn’t put together to try to have kids go elsewhere.”
Coaching assignments are expected in May, and tryouts are June 4-5. The club will announce rosters later that week. But any teams that advanced to regionals or other summer tournaments will remain together, with a full merger due by the start of the fall season.
But my child isn’t an elite player. How does it help him/her?
Simmonsen cautioned just because a player starts on the second team doesn’t mean he or she is stuck there. With a larger club, moving up or down between the first and second team in the middle of the season will become more common.
Instead of languishing on the end of the bench as the first team’s 18th player, he or she could shine on a second team that will receive better coaching and training than either club could provide their second teams alone.
That second-team player could then earn a promotion, either taking the spot of a first-team player who was called up to Portland or who fell to the second team.
“People are sometimes afraid of internal competition,” Simmonsen said. “But the great thing about internal competition is it breeds excellence. Now you’re not depending on just a league. You’re not just depending on one opponent at Simplot or one State Cup championship game.
“You have to define who you are every single day — trainings, games, friendlies, tournaments, scrimmages. And the great thing is a kid has an opportunity to do that every day of the year.”
Are there new uniforms?
Yes. The merger falls in both clubs' natural two-year cycle of replacing uniforms. The red and white uniforms feature the club’s new logo on the chest along with the name of its title sponsor.
The club recently signed a two-year, $50,000 deal with PetIQ, an Eagle-based veterinary supply company founded by a Nova parent and a Nationals parent. Woods said that’s a sponsorship the clubs couldn’t earn on their own.
“When you think about youth sports in the community, that’s a significant contribution,” Woods said.
The boys jerseys are from adidas while the girls uniforms are from Nike.
Will this cost me more?
Fees vary from team to team depending on what level they compete at and their travel schedule. But Woods, Billings and Simmonsen all said the cost for children to play should remain relatively steady.
“My goal is to keep fees the same,” Woods said. “We don’t want to put an increase of costs on our families.”
What about rec teams?
A combined club will expand the options for recreational players.
Currently, the Nationals only offers boys rec teams up to U-9 with everyone transitioning to competitive teams at U-10 or needing to find another club.
By merging with Nova, the combined club has enough players to offer rec teams up to U-14. And it will host three geographic divisions to keep families and players closer to home — one based at the Simplot Sports Complex in East Boise, one at the FC Nova Complex south of Meridian and one at Guerber Park in Eagle.
Woods added a larger staff also will allow the club to provide more training and help to the volunteer coaches of the rec leagues.
“Right now, we might have a staff member that can help them from a coaching perspective once a season,” Woods said. “We now can provide sessions four, five, six times a season. In fact, we can even have some of our staff come in and help assist in coaching in those youth games.
“We couldn’t do that when we operated alone because we simply didn’t have the bandwidth.”
Where can I learn more?
The Boise Timbers-Thorns will host an all-club meeting at 6:30 p.m. May 14 at the Borah High Performing Arts Center to share more details on the merger.